Thanksgiving weekend brought an excess of eating and drinking (but no turkey!) and three great movies – plus one dud.
Eureka’s new two-disk Blu-ray release Karloff at Columbia is a real treat for fans of the iconic actor. Although it begins with Roy William Neill’s atmospheric period Gothic The Black Room (1935), the bulk of the set is devoted to what became known as the Mad Doctor Cycle, five extremely low-budget sci-fi tinged horrors in which Karloff plays scientists dabbling in research which the establishment frowns on; the authorities’ resistance tends to push him over into madness and murder and mayhem ensue. Long held in low esteem, these cheap movies are all entertaining and Karloff delivers sincere performances no matter how silly the trappings occasionally become.
Indicator’s four-disk John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 box set raises some interesting questions about the nature of auteurism and how the ways in which a filmmaker comes to be defined influence how different films are viewed. Two of the movies in the set – The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Gideon’s Day (1958) – tend to be seen as minor and extraneous to Ford’s core body of work, yet both are among his most entertaining even if they don’t advance his familiar thematic preoccupations.
Yet another wide range of titles from Arrow Video from a restored silent classic to aliens over Tokyo, woods infested with zombies, food which consumes those who eat it, apocalypse in an alternate future Los Angeles, friendship destroyed by political conflicts, rich people facing the loss of their wealth and a naively admiring time capsule of the U.S. on the brink of the ’60s.
Criterion have released a stunning restoration of History is Made at Night (1937), Frank Borzage’s startlingly unpredictable mixture of romantic comedy, melodrama, noir and horror, which climaxes as a full-blown disaster film. Production began with only half a script and much of the film was improvised on the fly, yet it emerged as a wonderfully entertaining, continuously surprising testament to Borzage’s belief in the redemptive power of love.
Criterion’s new release showcases Jacques Rivette’s most playful feature, Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), with a terrific transfer and exhaustive (and exhausting!) supplements, including a an illuminating commentary by Adrian Martin and a second disk containing four-and-a-half hours of documentaries and interviews.
Known as the “father of African cinema”, Ousmane Sembene’s films grapple with issues of identity in the complex social and political conditions of post-colonial Africa. His second feature (and first in colour) Mandabi (1968) is a tragi-comedy about a proud man clinging to an outmoded patriarchal role whose life is upended when a nephew working in France sends him a money order for 25,000 francs.